MASSIVE crowds, estimated at more than 30,000, turned out last night to give a tumultuous welcome home to the All-Ireland winning Kerry football team.
As the open-top bus carrying the players and officials moved through Tralee, gardaí had to issue a number of appeals to green and gold-bedecked fans to move a little up Denny Street and back from the barriers in front of the platform.
Some experienced observers of Kerry homecomings said it was the largest crowd they had seen in Tralee for such an event.
Clearly, fans have taken the team to their hearts and the players, in return, were effusive in their words of appreciation for the support they received throughout the year.
In Tralee, Kerry selector Ger O’Keeffe, an All-Ireland winning player in the seventies, said the team was the best Kerry ever had.
“Many of the lads I played with had doubts about this team, but the team proved on Sunday that it knows how to win and will win again,” he said to loud applause.
What was described as the biggest ever crowd of around 2,000, from babes in arms to pensioners, welcomed the team at Rathmore, on the Cork/Kerry border.
A huge cheer went up when the train pulled into Rathmore, the first stop in Kerry. Two local members of the team, RTÉ man of the match Tom O’Sullivan and Aidan O’Mahony, together held up the Sam Maguire cup after stepping onto a platform.
They were welcomed by Rathmore GAA club chairman Eoin Casey, a Cork supporter, who joked: “The cup seems to like this place, it comes here so often.”
A beaming Kerry centre-forward, Tadhg Kennelly, delighted waiting fans with his now customary step dance after which he threw his cap into the crowd.
Aidan O’Mahony, referring to Kerry’s defeat at the hands of Tyrone last year, remarked: “What a difference a year makes.”
And he added: “I told you last year you would not have to cross the border (with Cork) to see Sam Maguire. I’ll tell you again,” he said.
Team manager Jack O’Connor, Kerry County GAA Board chairman Jerome Conway, captain Darran O’Sullivan and Tom O’Sullivan also addressed the crowd.
Mr Conway said he was delighted with the amount of support from Kerry fans throughout the season.
“Last year when we stopped in Rathmore, we were long-faced and sad, but we promised you we would be back with Sam and here we are,” he said.
Thousands also welcomed the team to Killarney where the formal celebrations concluded with a fireworks display.
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